Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
1-5. The messenger of the Lord rebukes the people at Bochim. Judges 2:6-10. Faithfulness of the Israelites during the lives of Joshua and his generation. Judges 2:11-13. Their subsequent apostasy. Judges 2:14-15. The retribution which fell upon them. Judges 2:16-19. Failure of their deliverance by Judges to wean them from idolatry. Judges 2:20-23. Consequences of their apostasy.
And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.(1) An angel of the Lord.—The words “Maleak Jehovah” are used of Haggai, in Haggai 1:13; of prophets in Isaiah 42:19; Malachi 3:6; of priests in Malachi 2:7. Hence from very ancient times these words have been interpreted as, “a messenger of the Lord” (as in the margin of our Bible). The Targum paraphrases it by “a prophet with a message from Jehovah.” R. Tanchum, from Judges 2:6, infers that it was Joshua himself. Kimchi and others have supposed that it was Phinehas. No indications are given of anything specially miraculous. On the other hand, there is much room to suppose that the writer intended “the Angel of the Presence,” because ( 1 ) he constantly uses the phrase in this sense (Judges 6:11-12; Judges 6:21-22; Judges 13:3; Judges 13:13; Judges 13:15, &c.); (2) the same phrase occurs in this sense elsewhere, as in Genesis 16:7; Genesis 22:11; Exodus 2:2; Exodus 2:6; Exodus 2:14; Numbers 22:22, &c; (3) the angel speaks in the first person, and does not introduce his words by “Thus saith Jehovah,” as the prophets always do (but see below). It seems probable, therefore, that by “the angel of the Lord” the writer meant “the captain of the Lord’s host,” who appeared to Joshua at Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15). Against this conclusion may be urged the fact that in no other instance does an angel appear to, or preach to, multitudes. Angels are sent to individuals, but prophets to nations.
Came up from Gilgal to Bochim.—This notice is by no means decisive against the conclusion that an angel is intended. The writer may mean to intimate that the Angel Prince of the host (Exodus 23:20-23), the Angel of the Covenant, left his station in the camp of Gilgal and came up to the new camp or assembly of the people in Central Palestine (Joshua 4:19; Joshua 5:9-10; Joshua 10:7; Joshua 10:15; Joshua 10:33; Joshua 14:6). Ha-Bochim means “the weepers.” The locality is not known, but the LXX. render it “to the weeping-place,” and add “and to Bethel, and to the House of Israel.” Hence it has been inferred that Bochim was near Bethel. Possibly however, the LXX. may have been led to this interpretation by the vicinity to Bethel of Allon-Bachuth, “the oak of weeping” (Genesis 35:8).
And said, I made you to go up out of Egypt.—The LXX. have “the Lord, the Lord brought you out of Egypt” (Cod. Alex.). Houbigant, from the repetition of the word, precariously conjectures the loss of some words, “Thus saith the Lord, I the Lord,” &c., as in the Peshito; and, indeed, in some MSS. a blank (Piska) is left, implying at least a suspicion that this formula has accidentally fallen out of the text.
And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?(2) And ye shall make no league.—This is the condition of the Covenant, quoted from Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 12:2-3. Comp. Exodus 23:31-33; Exodus 34:12-13.
Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.(3) Wherefore I also said.—Rather, And now I have said.
I will not drive them out.—The withdrawal of the conditional promises in Exodus 23:31.
They shall be as thorns in your sides.—The Hebrew is, “they shall be to you for sides.” The words “as thorns” are conjecturally supplied from Numbers 33:55. In Joshua 23:13 we have “scourges in your sides.” The LXX. render “for pressures,” and the Vulgate “that you may have enemies.” The Hebrew word for “sides” is tsiddim, and would differ little from tsarim (“nets”), which is the conjecture of R. Jonas; and this root is found in the verb, “and they shall vex you,” in Numbers 33:55. Whether we adopt this reading, or tsinnim (“thorns”), or suppose that a word has dropped out, the general sense is the same.
And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto the LORD.(5) Bochim.—(Comp. Genesis 35:8; Genesis 1:11.) It was like “the Jews’ wailing-place” in modern Jerusalem.
They sacrificed there unto the Lord.—It is not necessary to infer from this that Bochim must have been near the sanctuary at Bethel, Shechem, or Shiloh. Not only did kings and prophets seem to be tacitly excepted from the general rule against offering sacrifice at any place except the chosen sanctuary, but also sacrifice was always freely offered at places where there had been any manifestation of the Divine Presence—Judges 6:20 (Gideon); Jdg. 22:19 (Manoah); 2Samuel 24:25 (David), &c. On the other hand, it is improbable that all Israel would have been assembled at some unknown place, or that the memory of such a spot should not have been preserved.
And when Joshua had let the people go, the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land.(6) When Joshua had let the people go.—Rather, And Joshua let the people go. This passage strongly tends to support the view that the events of the previous chapter, and the message at Bochim, occurred before Joshua’s death. (Comp. Joshua 22:6; Joshua 24:28.)
And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.(7) All the days of Joshua.—Compare the whole passage (Judges 2:6-10) with Joshua 24:28-33, which is almost verbally identical with it. It is usually supposed that Joshua was about eighty at the time of the conquest of Canaan, because that was the age of his comrade Caleb (Joshua 14:7); if so, he had lived thirty years after the conquest. The gradual tendency to deteriorate after the removal of a good ruler is but too common (Acts 20:29; Philippians 2:12).
The great works of the Lord.—The crossing of the Jordan, the falling of the walls of Jericho, the battles of Beth-horon, Merom, &c.
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.(8) The servant of the Lord.—Deuteronomy 34:5 (Moses); Psalms 18 (David); 2Timothy 2:24 (ministers in general), &c.
And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash.(9) They buried him.—This circumstance is usually added in the case of kings, heroes, &c. (Genesis 23:19; Jeremiah 22:18, &c.), and this care about burial seems to point to at least a dim hope of that immortality which had not as yet been fully “brought to light.”
In the border of his inheritance.—(See Joshua 19:49-50. It was in Mount Ephraim, and in a rugged and barren district—a circumstance which raised the astonishment of Paula at the self-denial of Joshua (Jer., Ep. 108): “She was much astonished that the distributor of possessions had chosen rough mountain districts for himself.”
Timnath-heres.—“The portion of the sun.” This seems to be a mere “slip of the pen” (Ewald)—an accidental transposition of letters for Timnath-serah (“the portion that remains”), which is the reading of Joshua 19:50, and of the best versions, and of some MSS. here. The mistake is, however, ancient, for it originated the Rabbinic story that it is a reference to “the sun standing still upon Gibeah,” and that the image of the sun (temunath ha-cheres) was sculptured on his tomb. The LXX., after Joshua 24:30, add the interesting Hagadah (traditional legend), that the people buried in Joshua’s tomb the flint knives with which they had performed the neglected rite of circumcision, after the passage of the Jordan (Joshua 5:2). The name Timnath has been, perhaps, preserved in the modern Tibneh, about six miles from Shiloh. Its ruins yet contain some richly decorated tombs. There was another Timnath in Dan.
The hill Gaash.—The name means “mount earthquake.” Its torrent beds are mentioned in 2Samuel 23:30. It has not been identified.
And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.(10) Gathered unto their fathers.—See 2Kings 22:20, and for similar phrases, Genesis 15:15; 1Kings 1:21; Acts 13:36, &c. Another common phrase is. “gathered unto his people” (Genesis 15:8, &c.); and “sleep with fathers” (Deuteronomy 31:16), &c.
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:(11) Did evil in the sight of the Lord.—Rather, “the evil.” Used especially of apostasy (see Judges 3:7-12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1). They fell into the very idolatry against which they had been emphatically warned (Deuteronomy 4:19).
Baalim.—Rather, “the Baalim.” Baal means “lord,” or “possessor,” and in its idolatrous sense was applied especially to the sun, that was worshipped as the great nature-power, under a multitude of different names and attributes. Baal-worship was evidently Phoenician (Mövers, Phönizier, 184, § 9), and the traces of it are still seen in the Carthaginian names, Hasdru-bal, Hannibal, Maherbal, Adherbal, &c.
“ With these came they who, from the bordering flood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground, had general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth: those male,
Milton, Par. Lost, i. 420.
The splendour of the worship, as well as its sensual and orgiastic character, made it very attractive to the backsliding Israelites (1Kings 16:32; 1 Kings 28:26; 2Kings 11:18; 2Kings 10:22; Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 19:5). In Scripture we read of Baalzebub (“lord of filth, or flies”); a Jewish term of scorn for Baalzebul, (“lord of the heavenly habitation”); Baal-samîn (Song of Solomon 8:1; Plaut. Poem. v. 2, 67; Judges 10:10; Numbers 32:28); Baal-berith (“lord of the covenant,” Judges 8:33), &c. In Hosea 2:16-17 there seems to be a warning against the too facile use of the word, “And it shall be in that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishî (my husband), and shalt call me no more Baalî (my lord). For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name.” (Comp. Jeremiah 23:27; Zechariah 13:2.) It is at least doubtful whether the name has any philological connection with the Babylonian Bel.
And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.(12) Forsook the Lord God of their fathers.—(Deuteronomy 31:16-17.) It seems, however, that the sin of the Israelites was a breach rather of the second than of the first commandment. It was not so much a worshipping of other gods as a worshipping of Jehovah under false symbols adopted from the surrounding nations by a spurious syncretism. Similarly, the calf-worship of the northern tribes was originally intended to be an adoration of Jehovah, under the form of cherubic symbols, but naturally lapsed with dangerous facility into actual Baal-worship (Exodus 32:5; 1Kings 22:6).
And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.(13) Baal and Ashtaroth.—Literally, “the Baals and the Ashtareths.”
Ashtaroth.—The plural of the feminine word Ash-tareth, or Astarte, “the goddess of the Sidonians” (1Kings 11:5), the Phœnician Venus—identified sometimes with the moon (e.g., in the name Ashtaroth Karnaim, “the city of the two-horned moon,” the name of Og’s capital, Deuteronomy 1:4), and sometimes with the planet Venus (2Kings 23:4; Cic. De Nat. Deor. 3:23; Euseb. Praep. Evang. i. 10). She is called the “queen of heaven,” in Jeremiah 7:10; Jeremiah 44:17, and was called Baalti (“my lady”) by the Phœnicians. The plural form may be, as Ewald thinks, the plural of excellence, or like Baalim an allusion to the different forms and attributes under which the goddess was worshipped. The worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth naturally went hand in hand. (See Judges 10:6; 1Samuel 7:4; 1Samuel 12:10.) Ashtaroth is not to be confused with the Asheroth (rendered “groves” in the E. V.) mentioned in Judges 3:7. The words resemble each other less in Hebrew, as Ashtaroth begins with ע, not with א. Mil. ton’s allusions to these deities are not only exquisitely beautiful but also very correct, as he derived his information from Selden’s learned Syntagma de Dis Syrüs:
“With these in troop
Came Ashtoreth, whom the Phoenicians call’d
Astarte, queen of heaven, with crescent horns,
To whose bright image nightly by the moon
Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs;
In Zion also not unsung, where stood
Par. Lost, i. 439.
The derivation of the word is very uncertain. It probably has no connection with the Greek Aster, or the Persian Esther.
And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.(14) The anger of the Lord was hot.—(Psalm 78:59.) The language of the sad summary which follows should be compared with that of very similar passages which we find in various parts of the Bible (Psalm 106:34-45; Deuteronomy 32; 2 Kings 17; 2Kings 24:2-4; 2Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 11:2-10).
Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed.(15) The hand of the Lord was against them.—Contrast this with Joshua 1:9.
Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.(16) Nevertheless.—Rather, And.
The Lord raised up judges.—Acts 13:20; 1Samuel 12:10-11. This is the key-note to the book. (See Judges 3:10; Judges 4:4; Judges 10:2; Judges 12:7, &c.; 15:20.) The word for Judges is Shophetim. The ordinary verb “to judge,” in Hebrew, is not Shaphât, but dayyân. Evidently their deliverers (comp. Deuteronomy 17:8-9; Psalm 2:10; Amos 2:3) are of higher rank than the mere tribe-magistrates mentioned in Exodus 18:26; Deuteronomy 1:16, &c. Artemidorus (Judges 2:14) says that to judge (Krinein) signified among the ancients “to govern.” Of the judges in this book some—e.g., Tola, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon—are not said to have performed any warlike deeds. They may, however, have been warriors, like Jair, whose exploits are only preserved in tradition. Samuel, though not himself a fighter, yet roused the military courage of his people. They received no salary, imposed no tributes, made no laws, but merely exercised, for the deliverance of Israel, the personal ascendency conferred upon them by “the Spirit of God.” Perhaps they find their nearest analogy in the Greek Aisymnetai (elective princes) or the Roman Dictators. The name is evidently the same as that of the Phœnician Suffetes, who succeeded the kings and were the Doges of Tyre after its siege by Nebuchadnezzar. (Jos. 100 Ap. i. 21.) Livy tells us that the Suffetes of Carthage had a sort of consular power in the senate (Liv. 30:7; 28:57; 33:46; 34:61). So, too, in the Middle Ages, Spanish governors were called “judges,” and this was the title of the chief officer of Sardinia. The judges of Israel, at any rate in their true ideal, were not only military deliverers (Judges 3:9), but also supporters of divine law and order (Genesis 18:25). The abeyance of normally constituted authority during this period is seen in the fact that one of the judges is the son of a “stranger” (Judges 11:2), another a woman (Judges 4:4), and not one of them (in this book) of priestly or splendid birth.
And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so.(17) Went a whoring.—Idolatry throughout the Bible is regarded as a spiritual adultery. (Exodus 34:15; Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:8; Ezekiel 23:37; Hosea 2:7; 2Corinthians 11:2, &c.)
The way which their fathers walked in.—As described in Judges 2:7.
And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.(18) It repented the Lord—i.e., Jehovah was grieved. (Comp. Jonah 3:10, “God repented of the evil that He had said He would do unto them; and He did it not”—Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; 1Samuel 15:35; Amos 7:3; Joel 2:13, &c.) The simple anthropomorphism of early ages never hesitates to describe the ways and thoughts of Jehovah by the analogy of human lives; nor is it easy to see how the sacred writers could have otherwise expressed their meaning. Yet they were, even in using this language, perfectly aware that it was only an imperfect and approximate method of explaining God’s dealings with man; and when they are using the language of calm and unmetaphorical instruction they say, “God is not a man . . .that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19); “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him?” (Job 23:13); “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).
And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.(19) They ceased not from their own doings.—Literally, as in the margin, “they let nothing fall of their deeds.”
Stubborn.—They are called “stiff-necked” in Exodus 32:9; Deuteronomy 10:16; Acts 7:51. The prophets and sacred writers are always careful to impress upon the Jews that they are chosen by God’s free grace to work out His purpose, and that their selection for this service was in no sense due to any merits of their own (Isaiah 65:2; Psalm 81:11-12; Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:51). It is to be noted that in the Bible there is none of the extravagant national self-satisfaction which defaces so much of the Talmud.
And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice;(20) This people.—Comp. Isaiah 6:9-10, “Go, and tell this people”; Judges 8:12.
Hath transgressed my covenant.—The same expression is used in Joshua 23:16.
That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.(22) That through them I may prove Israel.—Yet in this as in all God’s punishments there was an element of mercy mingled with the judgment, as we see from Exodus 23:29-30; Deuteronomy 7:22; and infr. Judges 3:1-2. If in one point of view the non-extermination of Canaan at first led the Israelites into temptation and brought down retributive punishments upon them, yet out of these evils God raised the two-fold good, that they meanwhile increased sufficiently in numbers to be able effectually to till the soil and keep down the wild beasts, and were also being trained in bravery and warlike skill, while the aborigines were being driven out “by little and by little.” Further, we see that a real growth was going on during this period of suffering and anarchy. The peril of internal discord was partly averted by the noble life, and inspiring memories, and treasures of infinite truth which they had acquired in the free air of the desert. “They learned by perpetual struggle to defend their new home, and the free exercise of their religion, and so they prepared for coming generations a sacred place where that religion and national culture might develop. During the long pause of apparent inaction a hidden movement was going on, and the principles and truths so marvellously brought to light were taking firm root.” (Ewald.)